Federal court rules Virginia state House districts unconstitutional

Federal court rules Virginia state House districts unconstitutional
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A federal court on Tuesday ruled that Virginia's legislative districts were gerrymandered along racial lines and ordered the state to come up with a redistricting plan by the end of October.

In a 2-1 ruling, the judges for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that state lawmakers must redraw lines for state House districts by Oct. 30.

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"Overwhelming evidence in this case shows that, contrary to this constitutional mandate, the state has sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin," Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in the majority opinion.

"We therefore find that the 2011 Virginia House of Delegates redistricting plan violates the Equal Protection Clause," Keenan added noting that Virginia lawmakers have been given "until October 30 to construct a remedial districting plan that rectifies the constitutional deficiencies."

Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer representing the voters challenging the distrcits, celebrated the ruling on Twiter calling it a "big win" for voting rights in the state.

"BREAKING: Big win for voting rights in Virginia! Federal Court STRIKES DOWN 11 Virginia State House districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Gives the legislature "until October 30 to construct a remedial districting plan that rectifies the constitutional deficiencies," he wrote.

The case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, previously made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had remanded the case back to a lower court for further judgment after vacating part of the court's previous ruling.

Elias argued that state lawmakers improperly diluted the power of African-Americans in the state by drawing them into 12 majority-black districts, including in the Richmond area. Eleven of the disputed districts are currently represented by black lawmakers.

The suit alleged that influence of black voters was concentrated into majority-black districts to dilute their voting power elsewhere in the state.

Republicans saw their 66-34 majority in the state House drop to 51-49 last November when Democrats surged across the state in local elections.